2018-03-01 / Front Page

Empire sewer could run $6 million

Meanwhile, council suspends clerk
By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

More than a quarter of the occupied parcels in the Village of Empire have septic systems dating back to the 1970s.

And of those, 20 percent have no documentation at all.

Those numbers came from the village wastewater feasibility committee report presented to the Village Council Tuesday night.

The cost for a municipal sewer system came in at between $2 million and $6 million, depending upon the size and type.

Empire is the only incorporated village in the county that whose residents aren’t required to connect to a municipal wastewater system. Leland Township and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians also provide municipal systems.

John Collins chaired the Empire Village committee, which was formed in May 2016 to review wastewater practices and consider the “need” for wastewater system options for the village.

He remains neutral on what has been a hot-button topic in Empire Village. Controversy still swirls around the $16 million wastewater treatment system serving Northport Village.

“It was not our role to recommend for or against a wastewater system,” Collins said as he reviewed the 35-page report. “There’s no implication about what could or should be done.”

Currently, there are more than 350 septic systems in the village. Most residential wastewater is handled by individual septic tanks. The New Neighborhood development on the south edge of the village has a communal system with a discharge field.

Commercial businesses use septic systems. Most of these are “grandfathered” meaning they were in existence prior to government regulation. As a result, most don’t meet current standards and small lot sizes preclude business owners from meeting onsite disposal regulations.

Some businesses are forced to “pump and haul” waste to off-site treatment facilities, Collins said.

Gosling-Czubak engineers worked with the committee to develop three “hypothetical” scenarios: one offering village-wide service, a second covering just the commercial area, and a third for the commercial area plus “core” village streets.

“The scenarios were only for demonstrating feasibility and cost ranges,” Collins said.

Capital costs for the scenarios ranged from $2 million to $6 million with operations and maintenance costs estimated at $70,000 to $160,000 a year.

Estimated cost to residential customers are $60 to $114 per month for the scenarios identified above. Cost for commercial users would be based on business waste and volume, Collins said.

The committee worked with the Michigan Rural Community Assistance Program (MI-RCAP), a non-profit consultant to identify possible funding sources.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and low interest loans from the agency could be used to construct a system.

In terms of need, there have been no major environmental issues documented, despite the concentration of aging systems in the village. That’s due in part from the Village’s surveillance of groundwater through monitoring wells, voluntary monitoring by members of the South Bar Lake Association, village beach monitoring and studies by the Great Lakes Environmental Center.

“The wastewater system, although not required, would provide environmental benefits of enhanced treatment and discharge quality,” the report states.

In terms of economic impact, a wastewater treatment is needed to maintain and support existing businesses and for commercial development, the report stated.

Of the 350 septic systems in the village, 27 percent date back to the 1970s or earlier; 13 percent were built in the 1980s; 16 percent in the 1990s; 32 percent, 2000s and 11 percent in the 2010s.

What now?

“The council has no plan to do anything other than to look at it,” village president Sam Barr said. “It will be used as a tool for the council and the rest of the community.”

Copies of the study are available for review at village offices and at the Glen Lake Community Library in Empire.

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